Life in SA is beyond surreal, but we have made it this far


We look back fondly at April 2020 like it was a holiday camp, a kind of pantomime of the real hell that only arrived a year later, writes Hagen Engler.

My resilience fills me with shame.

A week ago, I was riven with moral panic at the urgency of our nation’s ethical watershed. If we did not address our offensive, repugnant levels of inequality, we would immolate as a viable idea, and deserve it.

Barely seven days later, and the looting has subsided, largely due to the human body’s need for sustenance and an almost reluctant mobilisation of politicians and the armed forces.

It appears that exploitive capitalism must be allowed to continue drip-feeding us, as the only viable economic option in town right now. Also it’s bloody cold. My youthful idealism of 15 July appears to have atrophied similarly. I now have an altogether fresh reason to despise myself.

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Leavening the self-loathing is a vague and utterly unjustified sense of accomplishment at not being dead. At this point, a significant 68,192 of my countrymen have not been as fortunate.

In another win at the lotter of life, I have managed to avail myself of a vaccine – largely due to my birthdate. Despite suffering a debilitating set of side effects, I have emerged from the vaccination experience, ostensibly healthy.

Coming out the other side has required three days of bedridden tenacity and the forsaking of just about every activity that renders human life vaguely liveable in the 2020s: food, liquid, taste, sex, exercise, an absence of pain and the ability to concentrate for longer than 23 seconds.

The vax side effects also provided a sobering glimpse into what the real deal of Covid-19 might be like, and I sense it is not to be trifled with. Suffice to say, the prospect of my second Pfizer dose fills me with a certain amount of dread.

Another distant vista has also emerged, the prospect – still theoretical for now – of an after. Promised for far too long, it now appears more plausible, and my idle browsing of my dating apps now comes with a frisson of fresh dread. If I’m not careful, I may actually have to meet certain of these people!

Some of them seem intrigued by my vaccination status, others adopt a scolding tone right from the outset, and another is gleefully pointing a handgun at the camera in her profile pic. For now, self-care dictates that we never swipe right.

But the thumb wants what the thumb wants, and some people intrigue us too. Soon – perhaps sooner than we expect – we may be in a position to meet new people. Individuals beyond our immediate family group!

It’s yet another of the current epoch’s suite of fascinating outrage-combos, packaging fear with intrigue. A cup of green tea that tastes like molten aluminium; a toilet roll that lasts for two weeks; a wizened, cramping hand that has assumed that shape and function of a smartphone cradle!

We look back fondly at April 2020 like it was a holiday camp, a kind of pantomime of the real hell that only arrived a year later. But the tone was set, we calibrated for survival, and now most of us have indeed survived.

We’re not even vaguely through it yet. God, we thought we were through it in September last year, and how wrong we were. I probably wrote this exact column back then already!

Now is just like then, except with added fear, more deaths closer to home, a sense of physical and psychic exhaustion, and a popular uprising along the way. But the time of our reintegration is closer, more imminent.

How well we will handle it remains to be seen. We’ve lost people, reality is no longer what it used to be, but we’ve made it this far.

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